Car smells like garbage — Causes and fixes

If your car suddenly smells like garbage, it doesn’t only make you uncomfortable; it also affects your health. I mean, being in a confined space for long with a bad smell is daunting and can make driving tiring. However, you don’t have to get stuck with that smell.

If your car suddenly starts smelling like garbage, it’s imperative you know why and possible ways to fix it. Follow me as I unveil possible causes of cars smelling like garbage and ways to remedy it.

What causes a car to suddenly smell like garbage?

For those asking why does my car smell like a dumpster or garbage? Common causes of cars suddenly smelling like garbage include food spills, animal droppings, and moisture that have been there for a long time. Others may consist of car-related issues like faulty exhaust or fluid leaks.

car smells like dead animal

1. Food spills or remnants

Food spills and remnants are one of the major reasons you have that awful smell in your car. It’s possible that you or other car occupants dropped food crumbs or spilled food in your car that found its way to an area in your vehicle that’s hard to reach.

In other cases, you or other passengers may have forgotten a food pack in your car. After a while, these foods can start decaying, resulting in that garbage-like smell in your vehicle.

2. Animal droppings or intrusion

If you’re a pet lover or animal transporter, one of those pets or animals you travel with may have pee or defecate in your car, unknowingly to you.

In other cases, if you park your vehicles in areas where smaller animals like mice, cockroaches, or rats dwell, they may find a way into your car. And in many cases, leave some droppings or even die in your vehicle—invariably resulting in an awful smell. This should answer those asking why their car smells like dead animal.

3. Moisture

Sometimes, water from the window or roof seals can enter your interior. This, over time, can cause the formation of mold or mildew in your car, especially during the warm months. Sweaty gym or sports wear forgotten in a bag inside your vehicle is also a culprit. Both of which, over time, result in a wet horrible smell.

4. Car issues

Car issues like faulty exhaust or oil leaks can also cause your car to smell terrible. Faulty exhaust or other exhaust components can cause exhaust leaks and emission issues, resulting in exhaust fumes entering your vehicle. 

Oil leaks, especially those that land on hot parts of your car, like the exhaust, can result in a burning smell that eventually finds its way into your car’s interior. While these are not common reasons your car smells like garbage, they can be culprits sometimes.

Read Also: How to Get Cigarette Smell Out Of A Car

How do you fix the garbage smell from your car?

Here are simple ways to get rid of the garbage smell in cars.

1. Identify and remove the source of the smell

The first step to fixing the garbage smell in your car is locating the cause of the smell. Check the trunk, under seats, and hidden openings for food and drink spills, animal droppings, dead animals, dirty gym wear, old grocery bags, and any items you may have forgotten in the car.

Use a flashlight in those hard-to-reach areas. If you like, you can find the source of the smell by using your nose to smell where the most severe odor is coming from.

2. Thoroughly clean the car

After locating, clean out anything you found that might be causing the smell, focusing more on the fabrics, seats, and floor area.

Most times, the seat and floor area over time absorbed these things causing the smell. Because of this, surface cleaning won’t do, so you may have to clean again to remove the odor completely. To achieve this, you may need to use the following;

Vinegar and water: You can use vinegar and water for surface areas as this effectively removes stains from hard surfaces like plastic mats and even your car’s dashboard. It’s also a good grime or grease remover.

Vacuum the car: Vacuuming your car is another effective way of totally removing car smells. Many times, your floor mats and upholstery absorb the smell-causing things, making it difficult for surface cleaning to work.

Bring out your mats and seats and vacuum them thoroughly to remove the dirt and other things causing the smell. You can as well vacuum them inside the car.

Use of baking soda: Another natural yet effective way of thoroughly cleaning a car’s interior is using baking soda and charcoal, as this helps eliminate odors. You can spray tiny specks of your soda on your seat, mat, and other fabric. Leave for a while and vacuum.

Caution: Please avoid anything like the upholstery that the soda can damage

3. Clean the air filter and deodorize the AC system

Sometimes the smell could be coming from the air filter due to dust and other debris that may have accumulated there over time. I hope you have now got your answer to why does my car vent smell like garbage.

Clean the air filter; otherwise, replace it. You can also use any odor-removing spray specially made for air vents to deodorize it. However, while this will reduce the odor, it won’t totally eliminate it since the cause of the smell is still there.

4. Use odor eliminators or air fresheners/essential oils

After thoroughly removing all that’s possibly causing the smell, you can apply any odor eliminator to remove the smell from your car totally. Odor eliminators contain active ingredients that not only neutralize but also mask smells.

Applying essential oils and air freshener is another way to improve the smell of your car after cleaning. With a few drops of essential oil or pumps of air freshener, your vehicle will smell nice again.

Different types of air fresheners are available in the market. If you’re not ok with the spray type, you can opt for plug-in air fresheners. However, don’t use too much, as too much of it can be disturbing.

5. Seek professional help

If the odor keeps reoccurring or you’re not confident in doing as suggested above, you may need the services of a professional. Car cleaning professionals have the right tools and expertise to remove the garbage smell from your car.

Read Also: My Car Smells Like Gas When I Start It But Goes Away.

Important tips to keep your car bad odor free

Prevention most times saves you not just money but time. So here are ways to prevent your car from smelling horribly.

1. Handle food properly

Be careful when eating so you don’t spill or drop food crumbs. If you can, stop eating in your car, but if you must, ensure there are no remnants.

2. Remove spills immediately

Cleaning out spills immediately not only prevents them from sinking in and causing bad smells but makes them easier to clean. The longer you let it sit, the harder it is to clean.

3. Do regular maintenance

Regularly cleaning your car’s interior not only helps keep your car clean always but also makes you aware of any strange bodies causing the smell in your vehicle in time.

For example, groceries like eggs can break and spill without you being aware and make your car smells like rotten eggs. Only regular maintenance can help you know and eliminate such odor in time.

4. Use seat and mat covers for easy cleaning

Car seats and floor mats, because of their materials, are good absorbers of spills and other things that cause the smell. However, if you use covers on them, they drop on the covers instead of the main mats. Cleaning covers are far much easier than the main materials.

5. Prevent moisture from entering interior

Preventing moisture from your car interior is another way to keep your car odor free. Look for leaks and fix them as quickly as possible.

You may also want to stop using water to clean your car’s interior. While this may seem ok, it may take days for the water to dry out. And then you will have a musty smell to deal with again. You can even prevent moisture by installing a moisture absorbent in your car.

6. Regularly clean your air conditioner

Drivers often concentrate on car interiors like chairs, floor mats, and other visible items and miss some hidden places like the air vents. Air vents can get clogged over time with dust and debris and start smelling badly.

Apparently, if your car air conditioner smells like garbage, it would ooze out bad air and make your car smell like a dumpster. Cleaning or replacing the air filter should eliminate this garbage-like smell.

7. Ventilation is key

While an air freshener is excellent, opening your car for fresh air is also great. The more ventilated your vehicle is, the less the probability of the car smelling.

Final Words

Food spills, animal dropping, and moisture are major reasons your car suddenly smells like garbage. Thankfully, you can restore your car smell by doing a few things. Take out whatever that’s causing the smell and vacuum the car to eradicate the source of the smell. Use an odor eliminator or air freshener if necessary.

You can also prevent your car from smelling badly by doing a few things listed above. But most importantly, remove anything causing the smell in time; the longer it stays, the harder it is to restore your car smell.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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